Have you ever tried brining pork before adding it to the smoker? It’s a step we highly recommend. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to get this step wrong. That’s why we’ve put this guide together.
Can You Brine Pork Too Long?
Yes. If pork sits in a brine solution for too long, the salt will cause the protein strands to break down too far. That means that the meat will have a mushy texture when it’s finished cooking. Over-brining will also make the pork taste too salty.
What’s the point of brining the pork in the first place? There are two major reasons why you should consider taking this step: flavor and moisture.
Brining refers to soaking the meat in a saltwater solution—or, in the case of dry brining, rubbing the meat with salt and other seasonings. This helps the tissues retain moisture during the cooking process, so the pork will turn out deliciously juicy.
As you might have guessed, the brine provides a good flavor boost as well. A basic brine consists of salt and water, but you can experiment with different liquids and seasonings to suit your flavor profile.
Which Cuts of Pork Should Be Brined?
You can brine any cut of pork you like, as long as it hasn’t already been subjected to a curing process beforehand. If that’s the case, the meat won’t benefit from the brine, and will taste too salty besides.
The thing to remember is that different cuts require different treatment, depending on the size of the cut. You wouldn’t want to brine a pair of boneless pork chops for the same amount of time that you would brine an 8-pound pork shoulder.
Speaking of which, we should point out that tougher cuts will benefit more from the brine than naturally tender cuts. That’s because the salt works as a tenderizer as it relaxes the muscle fibers.
Will Brining Overpower The Smoke Flavor?
Assuming that the job is done correctly, this isn’t usually an issue. Pork brine recipes should use about 1 cup of coarse salt per gallon of liquid. That might sound like a lot, but the proportions are actually quite reasonable.
Also, don’t forget that you’ll be rinsing the pork after taking it out of the brine. The salt has already done its work at this point, so rinsing off the excess shouldn’t have an adverse effect on the flavor.
How Long To Brine Pork
Small, lean cuts such as pork chops and pork tenderloin require only a short dip in the brine. You can leave these cuts in the mixture for just 30 minutes and still yield impressive results.
Larger and tougher cuts, like pork butt and pork shoulder, will need to soak in the brine longer to ensure success. It’s best to brine these selections for at least 8 hours.
Can you brine pork too long? Absolutely. Up to a certain point, the longer the meat sits in the brine, the more flavorful it will be. After a while, though, the salt will break down the protein strands in the pork, leaving you with mushy meat.
Aim for a brining time of 8 hours for pork chops and tenderloin. It’s fine to leave them in the brine for up to 12 hours, but only if you have no other option. We don’t recommend brining these cuts for longer than that.
With larger cuts, you have a bit more leeway as far as the timing is concerned. A 6- to 8-pound pork shoulder should be able to soak in the brine solution for up to 24 hours without ill effect.
Wet vs. Dry Brine
Wet brines are made by combining salt and other seasonings with enough liquid to fully submerge the meat. By contrast, dry brining consists of coating the meat with salt and letting it sit in the fridge.
It’s easier to apply a dry brine than it is to prepare a wet brine. What’s more, the ingredients will take up less fridge space.
When you use a wet brine, you’ll need to prepare the saltwater solution in advance. Depending on the recipe, you might also have to wait for it to cool before adding the pork.
What’s more, you’ll have to refrigerate the meat while it sits in the brine. That means freeing up enough fridge space to accommodate a container that’s large enough to hold the pork and the brine solution.
Finally, be aware that wet brine is messy to deal with. You’ll have to be extra careful when it’s time to sanitize your work station.
How To Dry Brine Pork
You don’t have to worry as much about measurements when dry-brining pork. Just use enough salt to coat the surface of the meat with a generous layer. You can also experiment by adding brown sugar or other spices, depending on the recipe.
Refrigerate the pork uncovered when using a dry brine. This will help the meat develop a crisp exterior when it’s time to cook it.
When it comes to dry-brining, you also have more leeway in terms of time. For large cuts, feel free to leave the salt coating on the pork for up to 2 days. Smaller and leaner cuts can be dry-brined for up to 24 hours.
You don’t need to rinse off a dry brine. Just brush off the excess salt and prepare the pork according to your chosen recipe. If the surface of the meat is too moist, it won’t brown properly.
A Word About Brining Salt
You’ll find that most recipes call for coarse salt—usually kosher—rather than regular table salt. Here’s why.
Kosher salt is made up of coarse flakes, whereas table salt consists of granulated salt crystals. Although the large flakes look impressive, kosher salt has fewer salt crystals by volume. As a result, a brine made from kosher salt will taste less salty.
You’ll need to make adjustments if you opt to substitute table salt for kosher salt in a brine recipe. Reduce the total amount of salt by about 25 percent. In practical terms, if a recipe calls for 1/2 cup of kosher salt, you should use 6 tablespoons of table salt.
One more important note: Don’t make the mistake of using curing salts in a brine recipe. These salts contain nitrates that help them preserve cured meats, such as salami and bacon. While useful when used correctly, they’re too intense for a regular brine.
Finding The Correct Ratio
If you’re making enough brine for an 8-pound pork butt, you should plan on using 1 cup of kosher salt for every gallon of liquid. Pork tenderloin and chops won’t require as much brine, so try to use 1 tablespoon per cup of liquid.
You can keep things simple by combining the salt with plain water, or experiment with various ingredients to ramp up the flavor. Try swapping a few cups of the water for apple juice, vinegar, cider, or beer.
In addition to salt, you can add brown sugar, fresh herbs, and spices to the mixture. Try dropping in a few cloves of raw garlic as well. Aromatic vegetables such as onions, carrots, and celery will also provide excellent flavor.
Does Wet Brine Need To Be Cooked?
Not necessarily, but this step will help the spices dissolve more quickly. Bring the ingredients to a low simmer, then stir until the salt and sugar are fully incorporated. Remember that the brine will need to cool completely before you add the pork.
The Bottom Line
When using a wet brine, try to aim for a brining period of 24 hours for large cuts of pork, and 8 hours for small and lean cuts. You want to season the meat and help it retain its moisture, not drown it.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!